Contribute CS4 review

Contribute CS4 lets you edit and update blogs and websites with no need for any experience in HTML or web design. Users can add or update text, images, tables, links, as well as insert Word and Excel documents. There’s even dedicated functions for adding a Paypal button and Google search field to your site. Contribute can edit sites in a foolproof word-processor mode, but there is a substantial set of tools to work on a more professional level.

In previous versions of Contribute, a reviewer could send the page to another reviewer without the web page coming back to the author, but now administrators can assign predefined workflows to pages that strictly control the review process. A useful expiry notification feature can be set via a meta tag value for one or several Contribute pages, which will send a message to these contributors when they need to update the site.

The CS4 interface revolution doesn’t seem to have affected Contribute. There’s no Workspace Switcher or some of the other common elements of CS4, but there is a new Application bar with links to Bridge, a button to hide the side panels, a search box and a blog/site entry button. This proved to be more of a hindrance to the main work area until we tore it off and moved it elsewhere. As before there is a handy tutorial section.

Dreamweaver integration lets you include advanced layout components like Spry widgets, or access in-context editing areas. Such templates feature editable regions, defining where users can add or edit content. Any links in the Contribute document can now have their paths set relative to the site root or the web page, so that if you as an administrator want to rearrange content or pages within the site, the links will not be broken.

Database-driven sites that use the MetaWeblog and Atom blog protocols are now supported. Any changes to the content in the database are reflected in the corresponding portions of the page. Most of the formatting tools that blog sites provide are available from within Contribute, so text layout can be changed, links and images added, and new text entries created – all in draft mode. A spell checker will highlight errors and reviewers can add in-line comments to the page, if this is allowed by the workflow set by the administrator.

Online, offline

You don’t have to be online to use Contribute. You can create new pages and edit existing drafts, but obviously you can’t browse, publish pages or send drafts. You can also use the Draft Console, which lists shortcuts to view your current working drafts quickly.

An integrated browser lets you view how the results will look, caching the pages before they’re published, or find the web page or blog entry you want to edit. It doesn’t quite match the new Live View in Dreaweaver CS4, as you still have to switch to the browser to see any editing changes. However, a useful new feature is the plug-in for Firefox, which installs a Contribute CS4 toolbar in that browser, so you can start editing your site and blogs during your normal browsing time.

If supported by the site or service you’re working with, you can insert Flash CS4 files, video, HTML snippets and PDFs for web pages or blog entries created in Contribute. We tried inserting a Flash CS4 animation of a bouncing ball. We were able to display and position in Contribute itself, but the application crashed when we tried to preview it in the browser. On the second attempt, a dialog informed us that the SWF format wasn’t supported.

To avoid this, administrators can link to blog servers and websites, then update and view which content types can be added. However, working with a table also produced a JavaScript error, so there’s clearly some instability somewhere. So we were glad of another new feature – the option to save documents automatically. Crashes aside, the rich content files we worked with were easily inserted in the Contribute document.

OUR VERDICT

Bought as part of one of the CS4 suites, Contribute offers a quick way to edit a number of blogs and sites on hosted services from a central location, especially those that don’t supply controls to embed rich assets as standard. It’s useful as a standalone tool too, but if you already have Contribute CS3 there’s not much here to warrant an immediate upgrade.

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